A Piece of My Mind: Collateral Damage (Los Altos Town Crier May 31, 2023)
The San Jose Mercury-News had a featured op-ed on the opinion page about “the unprecedented economic costs of COVID-19.” The article cited an estimate from “our team of economists, public policy researchers, and other experts” of over $14 trillion lost due primarily to workplace absences and lost sales. But authors Jakub Hlavka and Adam Rose noted that “we didn’t estimate a vast array of indirect costs, such as … mental health effects on the population and the learning loss experienced by students.”
Already, graphs and charts show economies bouncing back, workers returning to unused offices, or the offices being repurposed. What can’t be measured, as Hlavka and Rose admitted, is the collateral damage to families and communities, and what can’t be predicted is the length of time required to truly heal.
I know a young woman who was a junior in college when COVID hit. Lockdown forced her into an unrelenting intimacy with her roommates which ended in hard feelings and frayed friendships. No internships or jobs materialized in the long locked-down summer. To save money in her senior year, since all classes were being held remotely, she lived with her father and stepmother. Again, the stress of too much proximity led to an argument, an explosion, things said that were hard to forgive, and now the daughter has been estranged from that part of her family for over two years.
I know a young man who was a high school senior taking advanced classes. Lockdown in the spring quarter of his senior year meant none of the traditional rites of passage happened: no Senior Sneak Day, no Senior Prom, no Yearbook signing, no Grad Night. He decided to take a gap year rather than spend his freshman year (and tuition) on Zoom classes. He did not make good use of the gap year, and when he started at an excellent private college he was out of the habit of attending to class schedules, dorm rules, and course requirements. He has narrowly avoided expulsion, and after turning over and spoiling a number of new leafs, hopes to start again this fall in a local public university.
Younger children, also, have been affected in hard-to-measure ways. A pre-kindergartener I know was outgoing and self-confident about meeting new people, but during lockdown she saw almost no-one except her parents. An extended trip before starting kindergarten didn’t provide much more opportunity for interaction with strangers without her parents beside her. Now in kindergarten, she is doing well in classes, but any disruption to her normal after-school and bedtime rituals may bring on a meltdown. She has never been put to bed by anyone but Mommy or Daddy that she can remember, and she’s not ready to start now.
Multiply these examples by hundreds and thousands. Then try to measure the disappointment, pain and anxiety that has been caused by COVID-19’s social disruption. How many tears add up to a dollar?